Sport

Maria Mutola of Maputo

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Mutola was born in 1972 in the poor shanty town of Chamanculo on the outskirts of Maputo, then known as Lourenço Marques, the capital of Mozambique. Her father was employed by the railways and her mother was a market vendor, as a young girl she excelled in football, she played with boys, as there were no leagues or teams for girls.
In 1988, at the age of 15, she was encouraged to take up athletics by one of Mozambique’s foremost literary figures, the poet José Craveirinha, who was a keen sports fan. His son Stelio, himself a former national long jump record holder who had competed in the 1980 Summer Olympics, was Mutola’s first coach, she wasn’t used to the rigorous training and so she decided that running wasn’t for her but she was convinced as potential was seen in her.
After a visit to Portugal, plans were made for her to join the Lisbon-based Benfica athletics club, but at the last minute Mozambican government denied her permission. That year, after only a few months’ training, she won a silver medal in the 800 metres at the 1988 African Championships in Annaba, Algeria before competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics less than a month later. She ran a personal best time of 2:04.36, but came 7th, so she couldn’t go for the semi finals.  Attempts were made to organise scholarships for her to train abroad, but it was not until 1991 that the IOC solidarity programme made it possible, so she went to the US to study and train.
She surprised many by finishing 4th in the final of the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, where her time of 1:57.63 constituted a world junior record. She lost out on a medal because she was severely impeded, elbowed twice by Ella Kovacs as she tried to pass in the final few metres, on the finish line, Kovacs fell across the line ahead of Mutola, reaching out and tripping race winner Lilia Nurutdinova as well. There was a protest but it was unsuccessful.
At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona there were great hopes for her  to win Mozambique’s first Olympic medal. She ran strongly but faded badly in the home straight, eventually finishing fifth behind winner Ellen van Langen. At the same Olympics, Mutola ran one of the few 1500m races at an international championship, placing 9th in the final. That same year she also won the 800m event at the 1992 IAAF World Cup in Havana, and was the only woman to beat Ellen van Langen throughout the whole year.
The year 2000 was so special, she  finally got the Olympic gold medal for Mozambique, at the Sydney games.  In 2003, she became the sole winner of the IAAF $1million Golden league title, for being undefeated throughout that year at all major competitions. With her physique, she ran with power and grace, and raised the flag of Mozambique with pride.
In essence the presence of the right set of persons present in our lives for us to succeed cannot be over emphasized because at every point in her life it was the encouragement and love of those around Mutola that helped.
Reference: Wikipedia, https://afrolegends.com/2012/07/07/running-with-mozambican-pride-maria-mutola/.

Article by: Ekowa Abosede Oghoghomena

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